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Universities and libraries constitute a major repository of African American art in the United States. Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, boasts the largest (more than fifteen hundred works) and oldest (established 1894) institutional collection. In 1967 the Harmon Foundation, an organization committed to recognizing and encouraging African American achievement, donated nearly half of its holdings to Hampton. The art collections at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., and Fisk University, in Nashville, Tennessee, began in the early 1930s. In 1955 Howard's museum was expanded by the acquisition of a collection of paintings and African sculptures by the American philosopher and critic Alain Locke. Fisk houses a large number of murals, paintings, and graphic works by Aaron Douglas, who taught there from 1937 to 1966 Works by African American artists also make up a significant part of the Art and Artifact Collection at the New York ...

Article

Cynthia Hawkins

ceramist, sculptor, filmmaker, and cofounder (with her husband, James Hatch) of the Hatch‐Billops Collection, an archive of African American cultural history, was born in Los Angeles, California, to Lucius Billops, a cook and merchant seaman, and Alma Gilmore, a dressmaker, maid, and aircraft assembly worker. Billops graduated from Catholic Girls High School in 1952, and in 1954 she began her studies at the University of Southern California. She majored in occupational therapy, which included drawing, sculpture, and ceramics. She transferred to Los Angeles State College in 1956 after she became pregnant, and then she changed her major to special education. Billops worked during the day as a bank bookkeeper and maintained a full academic workload in the evening. At the end of 1956 her daughter, Christa, was born, and Billops put her up for adoption. This was an experience she would explore in her 1992 ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

book collector, historian, and journalist, was born in Philadelphia to George Bolivar, and Elizabeth LeCount Proctor Bolivar. There is some uncertainty about his precise year of birth, with historians suggesting 1844 (Silcox) or 1849 (Welborn), while census data inclines toward an 1847 date. His father was employed as a sailmaker by James Forten, a local businessman and founder of the Philadelphia Library Company of Colored Persons.

The family numbered themselves among the “O.P.”—Old Philadelphians—of the African American community. George Bolivar had been born in Philadelphia, to a Pennsylvania-born mother and a father from North Carolina. Elizabeth Bolivar was born in Pennsylvania to parents born in Maryland (1850 census). In 1850George Bolivar owned real estate valued at $8,000, while a North Carolina–born cousin, Nicholas Bolivar, lived with the family, working as a tailor. Throughout Bolivar s life there were relatives or ...

Article

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

Article

Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

Article

Violet J. Harris

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the achievements of black women authors who create children books have been nothing short of remarkable. Virginia Hamilton and Angela Johnson received the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Award, and Mildred Taylor continued to win Newbery Honor Medals for her historical fiction series, The Land. A dozen new writers were routinely published. Two authors, Connie Porter and Deborah Gregory, entered the lucrative world of television movies and sidelines—products based on a literary character, such as dolls, CD-ROMS, and clothing—with series fiction, Meet Addy, an American Girl product, and The Cheetah Girls, a Disney Corporation creation. Comparable achievements are apparent on the editorial and production side of publishing. Burnette Ford and Andrea Davis Pinkney assumed major editorial positions in mainstream companies, while Cheryl Willis-Hudson left a career in publishing to found Just Us Books with her husband Librarians critical advocates of ...

Article

Tiffany Adams

folklorist, writer, and educator, was born Daryl Cumber in Richmond, Virginia, the only child of Allen Whitfield Cumber, a proprietor of a restaurant and tavern, and Veronica Bell, a teacher. Raised in Charles City, Virginia, she earned her B.A. degree in English in 1957 from Virginia State College (now known as Virginia State University), a historically black institution located just outside of Richmond in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1958 she married Warren Dance and had three children, two sons and one daughter. She continued to pursue her English studies at Virginia State College and earned her M.A. in English there in 1963.

Dance taught at both Virginia Union and Armstrong High School of Richmond before earning her Ph.D. in English in 1971 at the University of Virginia which was by then an integrated institution Although Dance and her family had deep roots in Virginia ...

Article

Eva M. Thompson

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass purchased his final home, which he named Cedar Hill and is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. In addition to the more than one thousand periodicals and three thousand artifacts and archival materials housed in his library, there are also three thousand books. Two of these works are by Douglass himself: his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), considered by scholars to be an exemplary tale of the male heroic figure in African American literature; and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1893), his third and final telling of his experiences as a slave, former slave, and public figure. His library represents the university that Douglass did not attend and his determination to overcome just such a disadvantage. In Life and Times ...

Article

Juan Eduardo Wolf

was born on 3 May 1900 in the city of Talca in the Maule Region of Chile. He was the son of Blanca Cruz Vergara and Guillermo Feliú Gana, a lawyer and newspaper editor who made his anticlerical Radical Party views known through his editorials. It was Feliú Gana who would impart his patriotism, penchant for history, and interest in editing on to his son.

When Feliú Cruz was three years old, the family moved to the country’s capital, Santiago, where he studied at the Instituto Nacional and the Liceo de Aplicación, both well-known Chilean institutions at the elementary and high school levels, respectively. He published his first article in the Chilean Journal of History and Geography at the young age of sixteen This early success prompted Feliú Cruz to withdraw from the University of Chile s law school to focus on his own interests Despite the lack of ...

Article

Charles Rosenberg

librarian, journalist, and African Methodist Episcopal lay church leader, was born in Shannon, Mississippi, the son of William and Sarah Forbes, who had been enslaved until freed by the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the arrival of the United States Army in Mississippi, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Working at a young age in brickyards and farms, Forbes left the state at the age of fourteen, attended Wilberforce University in Ohio for a time, then moved to Boston in the 1880s. Mr. and Mrs. Mungin of Smith Court, a forgotten couple who assisted many struggling students, assisted him in finding work as a laborer at Memorial Hall in nearby Cambridge, saving money and studying. In 1888 Forbes enrolled at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Sherman W. Jackson later principal of M Street High School in ...

Article

Robert L. Gale

Leon Gardiner was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Jacob Gardiner and Martha (maiden name unknown). In 1902 he and his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From childhood he was interested in reading, cross-country running, hiking, camping, and bicycling. Later he developed an interest in music, choir singing, and photography. Blatant racial discrimination kept him from attending the photography school of his choice in Philadelphia, to his great disappointment. In the very early 1900s he began to collect material of various kinds concerning the achievements of blacks, black institutions, and Lynchings of blacks.

From 1908 to 1923 or so Gardiner attended meetings held by Philadelphia s Afro American Historical Society later the American Negro Historical Society expressed his ideas and described his findings in what he called race literature and was encouraged by fellow members in various ways He kept adding to his collection ...

Article

J. James Iovannone

collector, historian, author, and social personality, was born in Maryland, the son of Levi Thomas and Louisa Morris Gumby. In 1901 Gumby and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents, and it was there, at age sixteen, that Gumby began his scrapbook collection, making his first book—a practice that he would continue throughout the rest of his life—out of wallpaper, paste, and clippings of the September 1901 assassination of President McKinley. In 1902 Gumby entered Dover State College (later Delaware State University) in Delaware and began to study law. Before completing his studies Gumby withdrew from school and moved to New York City around 1906, where he would live until his death nearly sixty years later.

Gumby was immediately dazzled by life in the big city and sought to integrate himself into the urban community During his early years in New ...

Article

Robin Jones

art educator and art collector, was born in Chicago to Eugene Renfroe and Bertha Wiley and grew up on the South Side with her brothers Everett and Earl. She graduated from Bowen High School and received a teacher's certificate from Chicago Normal College, becoming an elementary art teacher in the Chicago public schools. African American teachers were a rarity in mainstream public schools, and Huggins broke into a segregated teaching field, advancing from teacher to district supervisor of arts. To enhance her qualifications for the supervisor position, she returned to school to obtain her bachelor's degree, graduating from the University of Chicago in 1933. In 1956 she received her master's degree in art education from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

When Huggins entered the teaching profession American public schools were barely one hundred years old and still in the developmental stages Indeed art and music were not ...

Article

Amalia K. Amaki

painter, graphic artist, and archivist, was born William Richard Hutson in San Marcos, Texas, to Mattie Lee (Edwards) Hudson, a homemaker and employee at Texas State University, and Floyd Waymon Hudson, a laborer, bandleader, and pianist. He grew up with three siblings, Floyd Waymon Jr., Ellen Ruth, and Clarence Albert. When his father died in 1942 his family moved in with his grandmother. In 1949 he entered San Marcos Colored High School. With no art classes at school or in the segregated community, he took a drawing correspondence course in 1951 from Art Instruction, Inc. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, working odd jobs to cover costs. His mother died in 1952 at thirty-nine following a long illness, and Hutson moved to San Antonio with his siblings to live with aunts Jewel Littlejohn and Milber Jones in the East Terrace Housing Project, his uncle Wilbur ...

Article

Russell Hopley

literary theorist, poet, anthologist, was born in Masila in the region of Constantine, a city in present-day Algeria, to a family of Arab origin. Hasan al-Qayrawani al-Azdi al-Masili Ibn Rashiq displayed an early interest in Arabic literature, and following his primary education in Masila he was sent to al-Qayrawan in 1015/1016 to pursue his secondary studies. There he was able to study under some of the most eminent literary figures of eleventh-century Ifriqiya (present-day Tunisia), among them the grammarian Abu ʿAbd Allah al-Qazzaz, and the poets Ibrahim al-Husri, Abu Muhammad al-Khushani, and Abu Muhammad ʿAbd al-Karim al-Nahshali. This latter was, like Ibn Rashiq, a native of Masila, and his principal work, al-Mumtiʿ fi ʿilm al-shʿir wa ʿamalih, served as Ibn Rashiq’s introduction to classical Arabic poetry, as it did for an entire generation of North African poets.

An accomplished poet by the age of nineteen Ibn Rashiq became a ...

Article

Jennifer Wood

John Rosamond Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to Helen Dillet, the first black public schoolteacher in Florida, and James Johnson, the headwaiter at a local restaurant. He and his younger brother, James Weldon Johnson, were raised in a cultured and economically secure home, a rarity for African Americans in the South at that time. Their mother read Dickens novels to them before bed, and they received music lessons from an early age. Indeed, John began playing the piano as a toddler. He later attended Atlanta University in Georgia, and his brother followed eight years later.

When Johnson graduated in 1899 from the New England Conservatory in Boston where he had studied classical music he realized that he wanted to explore the realm of musical comedy He became a vocalist with Oriental America an African American opera company whose productions differed from the pejorative stereotypical ...

Article

Jennifer Wood

composer, performer, and anthologist, was born in Jacksonville, Florida, to Helen Dillet, the first black public schoolteacher in Florida, and James Johnson, the headwaiter at a local restaurant. He and his younger brother, James Weldon Johnson, were raised in a cultured and economically secure home, a rarity for African Americans in the South in this era. Their mother read Dickens novels to them every night before bed, and they received music lessons from an early age. Indeed, John began playing the piano as a toddler. He went on to attend Atlanta University in Georgia, and his brother followed eight years later.

When Johnson graduated in 1899 from the New England Conservatory in Boston where he had studied classical music he realized that he wanted to explore the realm of musical comedy He became a vocalist with Oriental America an African American opera company ...

Article

Caryn E. Neumann

a major collector of African American art, grew up as the son of the coal employment broker William “Will” Norfleet Jones and the homemaker Ella Reed Phillips Jones in the small mining camp of Muscoda on the edge of Bessemer, Alabama. The family enjoyed privileges that were not typical of other black mining families because of Will Jones's position with the Tennessee Coal, Mine, and Railroad Company. As a result, they straddled the line between the black working poor and the middle class. In 1938, at the age of ten, Jones went to New York City to receive a better education than he could get in the racially segregated schools of Alabama. He lived with an older brother, Joe and returned home during the summer On a class visit to a New York City art museum Jones was captivated both by the art and by how ...

Article

A. B. Christa Schwarz

novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Obscuring details of her private life, cutting off friends in her later life, and dying in obscurity, Larsen, acclaimed novelist of the African American cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, was fittingly dubbed the Renaissance's “mystery woman” by Mary Helen Washington. It thus does not surprise that, while her literary reputation mainly rests on her two short novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), Larsen is the subject of three biographical studies. Charles R. Larson and Thadious M. Davis were the first who attempted to uncover Larsen's life, the many threads of which George Hutchinson has tried to pick up and untangle in a biography that corrects many misconceptions about Larsen's life and work.

Starting off life humbly, Larsen was born Nellie Walker to the Danish immigrant Mary Hansen Walker and the West Indian cook Peter Walker in Chicago ...

Article

Saundra Liggins

Sharon Bell Mathis's concern for the welfare of young people is evident in her career as a teacher and librarian, but closest to her heart is her role as author. Mathis explains that “I write to salute the strength in Black children and to say to them, ‘Stay strong, stay Black and stay alive’” (quoted in Something about the Author, vol. 3, 1987).

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mathis grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she attended parochial schools. Her parents, John Willie and Alice Mary Frazier Bell exposed her to a vast array of literary works and encouraged her to write poems stories and plays Despite her affinity for this work however Mathis decided not to pursue a career as an author believing that she would neither be able to make a living at it nor be as great a contributor ...